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Plantgasm - I love plants too much. By Derek Powazek.

Hot and Wet for Betty’s Berries

The Titan Arum, aka Amorphophallus titanum, is a botanical rockstar. Its flower is the largest in nature, reaching up to 10 feet high. It’s also one of the stinkiest. The inflorescence stinks so much, it attracts pollinators from miles away. The stench earned it the nickname, “corpse flower.”

So, of course, I’m going to try to grow one in my house.

titan seed

When I was in Miami for the International Aroid Show a couple months ago, I met Kathy Upton, who is the Greenhouse Manager at University of Missouri, St. Louis, where three Titans bloomed earlier this year. You can see them bloom in the video above. Pollen was collected from the first and applied to the second (named Betty), which produced a ton of big, red berries. Kathy was kind enough to mail me some.

titan seeds

The planting process is much like planting the smaller Arum, except everything is supersized. While the Arum italicum berries were the size of a pea, the Titan berries are about the size of a quarter.

titan squeeze

There were two seeds inside each berry. I squeezed them out, washed them off, and planted them in small pots in a peaty soil mix. The pots then went into sealed bags, under lights, and on top of a heating pad. Kathy’s advice was that the Titans like it hot and wet – she said Sumatra has two seasons: rainy, and really rainy).

titan bagged

I have to admit, I don’t know what I’m going to do if they actually grow. I’m not worried about the smell – it’s just the flowers, and only for a day or so. And they’re actually quite pretty while growing. But small they’re not. They can get up to 20 feet tall. And it’s not like I can just put it outside when it outgrows the house – the San Francisco climate would kill it instantly. I can mimic Indonesia’s hot, wet conditions in a sandwich bag, but I’m not going to terraform my house for the Titan’s comfort.

But I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it. It’ll be years before it gets to blooming size, and even then, a bloom is a rare event, sometimes only once a decade. For now, I’m incredibly excited just to try growing this botanical rockstar. Thanks, Kathy!

UPDATE: First Titan Spike!

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9 Responses

Those berries are phenomenal! What a great gift. I have an A. konjac going in our garden that keeps persevering. :-)

Posted by boZannical Zann on 6 November 2011 @ 8pm

Zann: An A. konjac outside in SF? I didn’t think that was possible!

Posted by Derek on 7 November 2011 @ 1am

you did a great job with this fantastic video!! thanks..and greetings from the mounttains..barbara

Posted by barbara on 9 November 2011 @ 12am

Thanks, Barbara! But I can’t take credit for the video – that was the work of the University of Missouri.

Posted by Derek on 9 November 2011 @ 12pm

Awesome! I love this plant, it is quite a rockstar isn’t it. Make sure to give us updates on your success. Fresh seed, what a gift, I’m jealous.

Posted by Nat on 9 November 2011 @ 7pm

Stumbled across your site today- I’m hooked!

Up here in Seattle, they cultivated one of these in a local plant conservatory, it was massive, beautiful and holy heck stinky.

I do remember reading though, that it takes ~7-10 years for the plant to reach maturity to flower.

May your patience be rewarded! :)

Posted by Lana on 10 November 2011 @ 6pm

A konjac was blooming while I was doing a work experience course in the botanical garden in Lund, Sweden. I love the smell of dead bodies in the morning. Or not. But the flower was impressive!

Posted by Li on 11 November 2011 @ 4am

In response to the first couple of comments: I don’t know how well the larger ones will do, but I’ve had plenty of small A. konjac that survived several freezes.

And as for your titanum–good luck!

Posted by Owen on 13 November 2011 @ 5am

Whoa, you’re planting a Titan? That is AWESOME, and ambitious. I am so coming over.

Posted by phyte club katie on 23 November 2011 @ 10pm


Plantgasm is where Derek Powazek chronicles his botanical antics and misadventures. More.